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HEFCE closed at the end of March 2018. The information on this website is historical and is no longer maintained.

Many of HEFCE's functions will be continued by the Office for Students, the new regulator of higher education in England, and Research England, the new council within UK Research and Innovation.

The HEFCE domain - - will continue to function until September 2018. At this point we will close the site entirely and all its information will only be available from the National Web Archive.


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Frequently asked questions

These are questions and answers related to the call for participants at a sandpit in social innovation. Initial questions were generated at a warm-up event held on Friday 23 October 2015 at the RSA in London. If you have a question which is not included in this document please contact This document will be updated as and when new questions are received.

General questions about the sandpit

Applying to the sandpit

Attending the sandpit

Project teams





General questions about the sandpit

What is a sandpit?

Sandpits are residential interactive workshops that are used in a range of environments. HEFCE, in association with NCCPE, is now supporting the application of this model to facilitate knowledge exchange between sectors and organisations in the area of social innovation.

Sandpits involve a mix of participants from across disciplinary areas which include practitioners, researchers and, where applicable, users. This range of participants is important to ensure a diverse set of approaches and encourage innovative thinking.

During the sandpit, with the help of an external facilitator, participants will: 

  • define the scope of the challenges relevant to the sandpit
  • evolve a common language to allow communication between disciplinary areas and sectors
  • share their understanding of the challenges informed by their expertise, experience, discipline and sector context
  • engage in break-out sessions focused on the challenges the group have identified
  • develop and present funding proposals for highly innovative learning pilot projects including a clear understanding of the resource requirements of the work. 

Due to the nature of the sandpit, time for relaxation, networking and breaks from intensive discussion will be built into the programme and suitable arrangements can be made for participants with particular needs, such as accessibility requirements.

What is a practical learning pilot and who would be learning from it?

A social innovation practical learning pilot is a project which implements the findings of research to address a social challenge. The projects should be designed to act as test beds that where appropriate have the potential to be scaled up or applied in other similar contexts. The work delivered by the projects can be understood as realising impact from higher education research.

Are the slides from the Social Innovation Sandpit Warm-Up Event on 23 October available?

Yes, they can be found on the Social Innovation Fund tab.

Applying to the sandpit

Do you have to be a researcher to apply?

No, we welcome applications from professionals wo are employed by their university in enabler and bridging roles who can bring perspectives on working with external organisations and communities and project development and delivery.

Can early career researchers apply?

We encourage participants from universities across all points of their academic or professional career. Please note that academic applicants must have completed their academic training.

Is this call only for applicants in England?

We also welcome interest from participants from the UK nations. However, should you be successful in application to the sandpit you will need to join a project at the sandpit that is being led by an HEI based in England.

Do I need to get permission from my university to apply?

When submitting your application you should ensure your head of department or relevant senior manager is willing for you to participate. If you are successful in your application to the sandpit you will be asked to provide a letter of support from them.

I’m not employed by a university. Can I apply?

As with participants from HEIs within the UK nations, we also welcome interest from those outside HEIs. Again, should you be successful in applying to the sandpit you will need to join a project at the sandpit that is being led by an HEI based in England.

Can academics or practitioners apply who are new to social innovation?

We are seeking applications from participants across the academic and practitioner community. We would expect the majority of attendees to have experience in social innovation but are aiming for a mix of a levels of experience and expertise at the sandpit, and some participants may have expertise in a related field.

What is the timeline between the deadline for application and finding out if you are successful?

Applicants will be informed of the outcome of their application in the week commencing 7 December 2015. We therefore advise applicants to hold the sandpit dates. Attendance at all three days (12-14 January 2016) is a requirement, and applicants will be asked to confirm their availability when submitting their application to attend the sandpit.

Should HEIs make a decision on who from their institution should apply to the sandpit?

The application process for the sandpit is on the basis of individual assessment. Each applicant will be assessed on their own merits, against the assessment criteria set out in the call for applicants guidance document. We will consider applications from more than one individual from the same institution or organisation.

Attending the sandpit

How will you select the participants for the sandpit?

A sandpit aims to involve a range of expertise, including across disciplines and organisations. The sift panel will consider the applicants in the context of the field of applications and attempt to ensure a spread of expertise and experience across broad disciplinary areas.

How would you work out costs (for yourself or the organisation you are attending on behalf of)?

Sandpit participants will be sent an information pack in the week commencing 7 December which sets out the information they need to bring with them to the sandpit. This will include some costings information on staff time and resources that would form part of a project proposal. If you are working with a partner organisation we recommend you discuss with them, prior to attending the sandpit, the daily rates and costs associated with relevant activities.

Project teams

How would the project teams form at the sandpit?

The project teams evolve organically and are supported by extensive expert facilitation. You will not be allocated to a group.

How will the HEFCE funding support be allocated at the sandpit?

Following the project teams pitching to a panel on the final day, it is planned that participants will receive funding decisions prior to departure from the sandpit. Successful projects will be conditional upon the subsequent receipt of worked up proposal documentation submitted to HEFCE in February 2016. How HEFCE support is allocate will depend on the nature of the project, and the resources required.

What will be the arrangements for intellectual property at the sandpit?

We will operate an open innovation policy at the sandpit. This means that a participant should only bring to the sandpit ideas that they are happy to share and discuss with others and have been already protected if appropriate. If a participant is planning to shortly launch a product or solution, with ownership of the IP, then they should not mention it at the sandpit. The spirit of the sandpit is to share your ideas freely to improve them and develop collaborative projects.


How will you support participants to develop the methodological aspects of delivering the work?

There will be a wide variety of expertise at the sandpit and the project teams will develop around the synergies and needs of the work. This allows academics with the experience of different methodological approaches to contribute to project development. The work will also be supported by mentors. This is to develop pilot projects to test methodological approaches but not to undertake research.

Should the beneficiary of the project be UK based?

The primary beneficiaries of the work may not be UK based but the project team should be able to articulate clearly how the project may have an associated or secondary benefit within the UK. This may be related to the target outcome itself or through the model of development created by the partners that could be learned from by others interested in social innovation.

How long should the project be?

The length of the project should be proportionate to the needs of the work and the funding allocated. We expect that projects will run for a maximum of two years but may be as short as six months. As a result we recommend that participants agree in advance of their attendance how much time they are able to be released for.

If successful in obtaining funding support (after pitching your project as part of a team at the sandpit), would you need to put together a full proposal?

If you are successful at the sandpit you would be asked to put a formal proposal together to confirm costings, participants and project design one month after the sandpit. See the previous question for advice on working out costs.


I have a partnership or links developed with an intermediary organisation or user group that aren’t attending the sandpit. Can they be involved in my project?

Attendees are encouraged to speak with potential partners in advance of the sandpit and establish where their interest lies and how flexible they are able to be with regard to the remit and scope of the work. It is understood that participants may wish to or need to work with groups who are not present at the sandpit. There will be the opportunity to fully develop the scope of the project and bring in leveraged funding or in-kind support, if appropriate, before the final proposal is submitted to HEFCE one month after the sandpit.


How will be the sandpit projects be supported and evaluated?

Sandpit projects will be supported through their award period by HEFCE and NCCPE. Monitoring and evaluation will be proportionate to the length and intensity of the programme of activity and will be agreed with the successful project teams. It is expected that this will consist of a minimum of 1 interim engagement updating HEFCE and NCCPE on project progress and a short final report.


What are the options for continuing the project if it is successfully funded at the sandpit?

One of the purposes of the HEFCE project funding is to provide the opportunity to develop proof of concept, placing those projects in a better position to seek further funding from charitable, public or private organisations. Examples of natural places to consider investigating, dependent on the nature of the work, may include:

  • European funding (Horizon 2020)
  • Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Big Lottery
  • Arts Council England.

There are also a range of private and peer to peer funding arrangements relevant to social enterprise and associated social innovations that a successful pilot team may wish to consider with their partners, including Big Issue Invest and crowd funding options.

Are there other funding options for projects that are not funded at the sandpit?

Projects developed at the sandpit that are not successful in gaining funding will, should the team wish to, be able to seek funding from other sources. Examples of sources to consider, dependent on the nature of the work, may include:

  • European funding (Horizon 2020)
  • Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Big Lottery
  • Arts Council England.

There are also a range of private and peer to peer funding arrangements relevant to social enterprise and associated social innovations that a project team may wish to consider with their partners examples include Big Issue Invest and crowd funding options.

Page last updated 3 March 2016